Ray Wood is an enchanting woodland garden with a remarkable collection of plants. There is something of interest to see throughout the year, but the peak flowering season comes in Spring as the rhododendrons put on a fabulous colourful show.
Having become overgrown, a restoration of the garden by staff and volunteers from the Castle Howard Arboretum Trust began in 2010 to bring it back to its former glory as one of the finest woodland gardens in the north of England. Visitors can once again enjoy the beauty of this special place where the first plants start to flower as early as January and there is usually something in flower until the autumn colours put on their final show of the year.
The garden in Ray Wood covers around twenty-five acres and can be explored following the network of paths, which resemble those laid out in the eighteenth century when a garden was first created here. This garden disappeared and the site reverted to woodland, which was eventually clear-felled for the war effort in the early 1940s. The main canopy trees seen today, mostly oak, beech and sweet chestnut, were planted in 1948.
The current garden was planted and designed by the late James (Jim) Russell, a plantsman of great skill and vision. James came to Castle Howard in 1968 and began planting Ray Wood when he arrived, with the young woodland trees providing important shelter.
Ray Wood offers a world of plants in one place, as the trees and shrubs in the collection hail from places as diverse as Argentina and Chile, China, India and Japan. As the garden is planted on acidic soil, it is able to support a variety of Rhododendron species, many of which were brought to Castle Howard by James Russell from his own nursery at Sunningdale. This collection is nationally important as many are the original introductions of species to this country, by the great plant hunters of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, such as Joseph Hooker, Joseph Rock and Frank Kingdon-Ward, with contributions from contemporary collectors such as Peter Cox and Peter Hutchison.
The collection of plants is now managed by the Arboretum Trust staff, with assistance from the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. Rare and unusual plants are being propagated to ensure they will continue to thrive and most of the specimens are labelled. This makes the garden a wonderful place to learn about plants as well as just enjoying the peaceful atmosphere and colours, sounds and scents of nature.
The Castle Howard Arboretum Trust is grateful to the Monument Trust and the Foundation Arboretum Wespelaar for their funding without which the restoration would not have been possible, our supporters, and the many volunteers who have made it actually happen.
To visit Ray Wood a Castle Howard entry ticket is necessary, but for Yorkshire Arboretum members guided tours are available free of charge on several occasions through the year.